Civilians and aid workers are the main victims of a recent intensification of armed conflict and troop movements in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). The national and international stabilisation forces in Kivu have never been so important, but given the worsening of the situation, the medical humanitarian organisation Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) questions its effectiveness. “The situation is not stabilising in Kivu. It is deteriorating again, and has been deteriorating over several months”, says MSF programme manager Dr Marcela Allheimen.
Recent defections from the DRC army have increased military confrontations and insecurity, and led to a reconfiguration of the different armed forces in the region. “We are noticing renewed violence. But what is worse is that violence against civilian populations and aid actors is becoming commonplace”, says Dr Allheimen.
The heightened insecurity makes it difficult for MSF to continue to provide medical care. Since November 2011, MSF teams have been victims of more than 15 acts of violence, including a raid last week by armed, uniformed men on an MSF house in Baraka, South Kivu. More seriously, on 4 April 2012, two MSF staff members – a nurse and a logistician – were kidnapped on a road near Nyanzale in North Kivu. They were released a few hours later.
As a result of the increased security risks, MSF – one of the few medical aid organisations present in North and South Kivu – has suspended its activities in Nyanzale, reduced them in Rutshuru and withdrawn its team from the Butembo area.
For people already weakened by many years of conflict, it has become even more difficult to access medical care. Sick people are afraid to travel to health centres. Insecurity is preventing others from going to work in the fields. People are afraid of theft and extortion. Items such as food, money and mobile phones are being taken, mostly to supply military logistics. Some have been drafted to transport the belongings of armed groups, and there are reports of women being held as slaves.
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